The Honourable Robert Shallcross Hulme QC (1941-2020)

The Honourable Robert Shallcross Hulme QC (Hulme QC) has died age of 79 in Sydney. Hulme QC was born and raised in Brisbane by his father, Sir Alan Hulme (the last Commonwealth Postmaster-General) and mother Jean (née Archibald). Sir Alan was the federal member for Petrie for most of Hulme QC’s formative years, sparking in Hulme a keen interest in politics and the law.

The young Robert, his brother, and his sister were raised in the Methodist tradition, and the principles of his faith guided him throughout life. He was always an extremely hard worker, rigidly disciplined, however, humble and generous to a fault.

After completing his legal studies in Queensland, Hulme determined that the Sydney Bar would be the best place to seek out the commercial practice he aspired to. The Sydney Bar attracted greater opportunities and higher profile cases.

Robert Shallcross Hulme was called to the Sydney Bar in 1965. In his early days he lacked chambers and set himself up outside one of the equity courts together with Malcolm Cockburn. He soon established himself on the Eleventh Floor of Wentworth Chambers. There he developed a solid commercial practice in the Equity Division of the NSW Supreme Court and in the Court of Appeal.

As a rising junior, Hulme QC appeared frequently in the High Court, led by Sir William Deane QC and K.R. Handley QC. He is recorded as having appeared as an un-led junior in the High Court at least twice (Brien v Dwyer; Penfold v Penfold), on each of those occasions for the successful party. He was well prepared and had an agile mind.

Arthur Emmett and Robert Hulme

He was appointed one of Her Majesty’s Counsel in 1982. In one of his notable cases as a Silk, Hulme QC led P.R. Garling (currently a Judge of the Supreme Court) acting for the Bar Association of New South Wales in the High Court regarding a barrister’s suitability to practise. Many years later, while sitting as the duty judge, Hulme J was invited by the same litigant to disqualify himself for apprehended bias by reference to the case decades ago. He declined.

Hulme QC took judicial appointment to the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1993. Initially, he was sworn in to the Equity Division of the Supreme Court where he had conducted a majority of his practice at the Bar. It seemed to be his natural habitat. It was not long, however, before a shortage of judges in the parallel stream saw Hulme J pressed, somewhat reluctantly, into service in the Common Law Division.

Hulme QC found that life in the Common Law Division offered a broader range of fare than in Equity. The judges of the Common Law Division presided over serious criminal trials, the Bails List and sat on the Court of Criminal Appeal. Having had some experience of the criminal law while at the Bar, Hulme J quickly developed a taste for crime and he never reverted to the ranks of the whispering gentlemen in Equity.

Carolyn Simpson, Joe Campbell, Suzette Hulme and Robert Hulme

As a Supreme Court judge, Hulme J applied the same tenacious work ethic that had seen him rise through the ranks of the Bar. He was known to be tough, but he was always rigorously fair. The distinguishing feature of Hulme QC was his extraordinary facility in the law and the extreme sense of competence that he exuded.

The role of Bails List Judge was rotated, with each judge presiding over the List for a week. Prior to the adoption of audio-visual appearances, applicants for bail would be brought in person to the Bails Court 1A, in the basement of the Law Courts Building, adjacent to the holding cells. Hulme J’s long-term Associate and longer-term friend, Therese Armstrong, recalls an application for bail in which the applicant’s lawyer had clearly not convinced his Honour for a grant of bail. The applicant, being present in the dock, took things upon himself, stood up, and convinced his Honour that he was a changed man who had learned from his recent incarceration and deserved a chance at conditional liberty. Hulme J acceded to the application and granted bail – on what terms it is not recorded.

John Dunford, Harold Sperling, Robert Hulme and Kevin Lindgren

On another occasion Hulme J, having determined to grant bail at about 8.00pm, was informed on behalf of Corrective Services that the successful applicant for bail could not be released that day, because the paperwork was back at the gaol. When the court adjourned his Honour drove out to Long Bay Gaol and signed the papers himself, thus ensuring his orders were given effect without an overnight delay.

Hulme J went on country circuit for murder trials several times a year. This required Hulme J, his Associate and Tipstaff to spend Mondays to Fridays in regional New South Wales, flying home each weekend, for weeks at a stretch. Hulme J would usually drive to the trial location for its commencement, leaving his car there for the duration and flying home to Suzette each Friday evening. His car was always available outside of sitting hours to staff who might wish to visit the beach or a local landmark, while Hulme QC immersed himself in transcript and interlocutory judgments back at his hotel.

Hulme J retired in 2012 and returned as an acting judge and sat until 2016. Hulme J was treated to the traditional send off by the Bar. Members spoke to his Honour’s lengthy career on the bench, but his Honour’s eldest son Mark stole the show with a deeply moving speech about Hulme the man, the father, and the lawyer.

Hulme QC was a devoted family man, however that did not affect his other pastime, sailing the Nereus, a sixty-foot motor yacht he had commissioned. Nereus was the ancient Greek god of the Aegean Sea. Nereus was truthful and virtuous ‘never forgetful of what is right, but the thoughts of his mind are mild and righteous’.

Hulme QC is survived by his darling wife Suzette (Suzi) and sons Mark, Braddon, David and Richard. He and Suzi were also the parents of Louise Elizabeth, who passed away in infancy.

Mark Maconochie